June 19, 2010

After three recent drownings in Sedgwick County, officials stress water safety

Never turning your back on children in the pool is the simplest way to avoid drownings, safety advocates say.

Never turning your back on children in the pool is the simplest way to avoid drownings, safety advocates say.

Sedgwick County has seen three drownings — two involving children under 6 — in the past two weeks. With summer heating up, more and more kids are bound to take to the water to cool off.

That's when adults need to be especially vigilant.

"Parents need to be avoiding all other activities when kids are in the water," said Daina Hodges, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Safe Kids Kansas. "They shouldn't be dealing with other distractions. Their focus needs to be on the kids at all times."

Accidents can happen in moments, and simply stepping away to answer the phone could be all the time it takes for something to go wrong, she said.

Paying constant attention is important because once someone slips underwater, they can't be heard, said Angela Nordhus, the executive director for the Kansas Child Death Review Board.

"We have to remember that drowning deaths are a silent killer," Nordhus said. "Kids aren't going to be screaming, 'Help me, help me.' "

Between 1994 and 2007, about 12 children per year drowned in Kansas, according to the death review board. About half of the child deaths took place in pools; a third happened in bathtubs.

Nationwide, more than 75 percent of drownings or emergency room visits from near-drownings involved children under 6.

Kathleen Reilly, spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission, said the number of drownings seems to be on the rise across the country, and an increase in backyard pools is a large factor.

Reilly said in-ground pools should be surrounded by a fence with a latching gate. She recommended that people who have inflatable above-ground or wading pools empty and turn them over when they're not in use.

"One of the problems is little kids are slippery. Once they learn how to get around on their own, they like to do it and you can't watch them every minute," she said. "If you have a pool in your backyard and you have children, it's best to put a fence around the pool."

Reilly said learning CPR and keeping a phone by a pool can also help in emergencies.

Swimming lessons help, Nordhus said, but they shouldn't be counted on to prevent drownings.

Being attentive and cautious around water are the most important factors in keeping an afternoon of fun from turning into a tragedy, Nordhus said.

"People need to realize that water can be a very dangerous thing," she said. We need to teach our children to respect it."

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